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Uganda Media is Part of the ‘corrupt’ Elite Culture

Ofwono Opondo

 Nov, 25, 16      

Until very recently, the traditional media in Uganda, namely print, radio and television, and the journalists who worked for them had passed off under the coveted unbridled title of being “The Fourth Estate,” in society, because the executive, legislature, and judiciary are seen as dictatorial, corrupt, un-accountable, and hard to trust. But with the emergence of rapacious corporate world of business, the media began to play along the interests of the established estates in order to survive and thrive. In fact, most media executives and journalists today, are among the top cream of Ugandan society by wealth and social affluence, and perhaps no need guessing how some of them got up there.
By doing so, some media, especially radios and television should either wholly or partially lose the title of “Fourth Estate,” because, most are founded, owned and run by corporate businesses, and politicians. Top managers at most media houses in Uganda today are non journalists, but corporate lawyers, and financial professionals whose calling of deal-making (deal-wheeling) by hook or crook, should be at odds with traditional media as society’s watchdog to ensure public and high standards of transparency and accountability.
Today, there is no media house in Uganda that runs even at ten percent on editorial revenues, as all are mainly on government, corporate, non-government organisation (NGO), and other forms of advertising, and printing and publishing revenues from private entities. From my vantage point, am noticing that gradually, even social media sites, platforms and personalities are beginning to scramble for the same sources of revenue.  In my view therefore, the Uganda media today, whether public or private, is, nothing much to write home about in terms of its independence, objectivity, impartiality and professionalism. And so, to demand and expect those credentials from them, is like flogging the proverbial  dead horse, which leaves the public with only one viable option, treating them like public officials and corporate businesses-with calculated disdain and suspicion.
When I joined government in 2000 as the director of information and public relations at the then Movement Secretariat, a position I have continued to hold with varying titles, I found many seemingly well-educated, experienced and senior government officials fearing the media and journalists.
The politics and political leadership in Uganda had been constructed with low caliber material and a mindset that they were bosses of everyone including the layers of government they led, and therefore was not supposed to be transparently accountable to anyone except if they individually chose to. Equally, the civil service that serviced it, because it was manned by ‘educated’ people who had attained formal academic and professional qualifications deemed that they knew everything, and so, the large poor peasant society couldn’t hold it accountable.
And having inherited the overbearing British colonial system that operated on the basis of officialdom, and principles of secrecy and confidentiality, it took that since society was largely un-educated, it was also ignorant, and as such there was no need to proactively share government information with them. Transparent and accountable democracy as we know it today was yet unknown, which further complicated governance.
Government and some government officials get ‘bad’ press, yet the media houses run for and indeed carry paid advertisements from incompetent, non-performing, untruth telling and even corrupt public institutions and officials well-knowing that some of the adverts are calculated disguised falsehoods meant to mislead the public. The same public officials who hide information and don’t cooperate with journalists when looking for news stories on accountability are the same ones who give their media executives money to run glossy adverts on government performance. The reason partly some accounting officers have been resisting any attempt to centrally buy adverts or having oversight because they know value for money would be easier to audit-quite often the adverts especially the supplements have little no relevance to the intended audience whatsoever. Some of the big corruption and wasteful public expenditure has been in media buying, and the media won’t talk about it because it is a beneficiary.
Am sure before the changes in UNRA perhaps you noticed two particular glossy weekly magazines with hardly 2000 copies in circulation each taking out 8-10 pages of full coloured adverts from UNRA on weekly basis as if they were on retainer to showcase the supposedly good works that was being done. Today, with Allen Kagina, the taps dried up.  
Otherwise how does one explain a TV station running glossy adverts concurrently with dilapidated health or school structures, and said it was difficult getting official response! The same media will often find it easier to criticize the policy, a minister or the president, but not the PS and team who give out the adverts and paychecks
Some journalist have run away from mainstream media houses, preferring media consultancies with government, NGOs, corporate world and diplomatic missions, yet still want to pass off as authentic media, rather than businesses companies. In fact, the active media, is now only a platform for most journalists to climb either the corporate or partisan political world, and so, journalism should be taken with a big pinch of salt, and it is no longer “The Fourth Estate.”